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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Editorial: More care needed

Editorial: More care needed

Last updated 05:00 18/03/2011
OPINION: It can be readily accepted that a vast number of buildings in the central business district of Christchurch have been badly damaged by the September and February earthquakes.

Many are irreparable and will have to come down as they would continue to pose a threat to human life and to the safety of adjacent buildings. But it is essential that this demolition or "deconstruction" process is handled in such a way that it does not further penalise affected businesses. The growing chorus of complaints from businesspeople suggests this has not always been the case.

There are in theory robust civil defence procedures for determining which buildings should be demolished, then ensuring that the work is efficiently and safely carried out. On the ground, however, it appears to be a different and more confused story in the central city.

Some buildings have been demolished without their owners or tenants being consulted or informed. Technically, Civil Defence authorities can act unilaterally as a result of the declaration of a national state of emergency.

But this must always be a last resort when the need to act swiftly becomes imperative. The norm should be that owners are at least informed. Presumably the Christchurch City Council or Civil Defence have by now an ownership list for central city buildings.

Some owners have also complained about difficulties getting straight answers about their buildings from Civil Defence officials, because of the authorities' heavy workload in the CBD.

Others have at one point been told by engineers that their building would not need to be demolished, as it could be repaired, then suddenly discovered that it had been earmarked for the wrecking crew. Heritage campaigners are aghast that historic buildings that they thought would be carefully deconstructed had been simply demolished.

Another concern is for those businesspeople in red-stickered buildings to which they have been unable to access. Outright demolition would mean that they would have no opportunity to salvage their business records and essential equipment, whereas a measured deconstruction might give some a chance of doing so.

The Press can empathise with the predicament of these businesses. This newspaper's historic building off Cathedral Square was badly damaged and it seems likely that it will be pulled down.

Within the building are more than a hundred years of records which, if unable to be retrieved, would mean the loss of a slice of Canterbury history.

Many central-city businesses have already been hard hit by earthquake damage. They appreciate that their immediate future now lies in the suburbs or in the temporary CBD being mooted by Central City Business Association manager Paul Lonsdale. Their prospects of successfully relocating in the city would be vastly enhanced if they had the computer files and other resources they rely on.

For some the alternative might be to quit the city and re-establish themselves in other New Zealand cities or across the Tasman. A priority must therefore be taking every possible step, including looking seriously at the suggestion of tax concessions for quake-hit businesses, to encourage them to remain in the city.

As Christchurch strives to rebuild itself as a prosperous and appealing city over the coming months and years, the last thing it needs is significant business flight.

- The Press

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